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Backcountry skier rescues snowboarder badly injured in remote section of White Mountains

By Ken MacLeod

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    BOSTON, Massachusetts (WBZ) — Patrick McQuaide of Pelham, New Hampshire has spent the last five days in the ICU at the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire – his wife at his side. The 31-year-old is alive – and will recover – thanks to an alert skier and a National Guard rescue chopper.

Jon Dwyer of Beverly was part of that equation. The 33-year-old is an experienced backcountry skier.

McQuaide prefers his snowboard for adventures off the beaten path. Both had never met before Friday, when Pat took some breathtaking videos in the remote “Great Gulf” of the White Mountains – just minutes before his near fatal fall.

“I would’ve felt terrible had I not been there when that happened,” says Dwyer. “Or if I’d been looking the wrong way at the wrong moment.”

Fortunately, Dwyer just happened to be looking up when McQuaide tumbled several hundred feet down the steep, rocky terrain known as “Turkey Shoot.”

Otherwise, no one would have seen it. His avalanche backpack deployed to provide a little protection as he tried unsuccessfully to dig in ice pick — but McQuaide’s helmet wound up in three pieces.

“I ran over to him,” says Dwyer, “and I was pretty certain at that point he was gone.” It took a minute or so, but incredibly McQuaide regained consciousness.

They were way out of cell phone range, but just the day before, Dwyer had bought an emergency SOS beacon. He used it to send rescuers his GPS position – and even text them that several broken bones had rendered McQuaide unable to walk.

We’ve avoided thinking about what would have happened,” says McQuaide’s wife Liz from his hospital room, “if Jon wasn’t there at the moment he was.”

“That beacon really cut down on the amount of time that Pat would have been out there,” she says. “He was able to communicate immediately that Pat would not be able to hike out.”

Indeed, rescuers came for McQuaide in a National Guard helicopter – but even that took two hours.

“To sit there in that kind of pain for that long was pretty incredible,” Dwyer told us.

By then, Dwyer had flagged down another skier, with both using their first aid gear and training to stabilize McQuaide – wary to keep him awake and alert because of an apparent head injury.

“Once I got him talking, he seemed to trend upward throughout the conversation,” says Dwyer, “which was awesome. Even in basic first aid they drill it into you that someone with a head injury shouldn’t be allowed to go to sleep under any circumstances.”

“A lot went wrong — for sure,” says Liz McQuaide. “But I am very grateful for the things that went right.”

Today, the injured snowboarder spoke to his skiing Samaritan by phone for the first time since the accident. He delivered a heartfelt thank you – and Liz McQuaide says both men came away stronger.

“I think the two of them would be very good friends,” she says with a smile. “It seems like they’re two peas in a pod.”

Some great news for the McQuaide’s came Wednesday evening, when they learned Pat is well enough to move to a rehab facility to continue his recovery.

And the hope is he’ll be all healed when the couple’s first child is born this summer.

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